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Henry Winkler on Bill Hader: The ‘Barry’ Star Is ‘Wound Tight, Completely Open’ and ‘Instantly Funny’

IndieWire Honors: Winkler marvels at Hader's calmness even as he produces, writes, directs and stars in "Barry."

Bill Hader and Henry Winkler'Barry' TV show premiere, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 21 Mar 2018

Bill Hader and Henry Winkler

Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock


On November 1, the 2018 IndieWire Honors ceremony will celebrate eight filmmakers and actors for their achievement in creative independence. We’re showcasing their work with new interviews and tributes from their peers this week.

When Henry Winkler kicked off this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards with the night’s first win, as outstanding supporting actor in a comedy for “Barry,” creators Bill Hader and Alec Berg felt like proud papas.

It was a landmark moment for Winkler, who had just won his first Emmy, 42 years after his first nomination. But the feeling was soon mutual, as Winkler got a chance to cheer on Hader as the “Barry” star picked up the Emmy for outstanding actor in a comedy. Winkler spoke to IndieWire’s Michael Schneider about how he wound up working for Hader, and how the star sets the tone for making “Barry” one of the most critically acclaimed — and now, honored — comedies on television.

Bill Hader - Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series - 'Barry' and Henry Winkler - Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series - 'Barry'70th Primetime Emmy Awards, Press Room, Los Angeles, USA - 17 Sep 2018

Bill Hader and Henry Winkler at the Emmys

David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

It found me. Trust me. We were leaving an estate-planning meeting, three-fourths of which I did not understand, at my business manager. Driving down Ventura Boulevard, thinking of a pastrami sandwich at Art’s, I got a phone call: “There’s a short list, it’s Bill Hader’s new show on HBO, they want you.” So now all of a sudden my heart’s in my throat, and I’m trying to stay calm. “Oh, that’s great. Oh, yeah.” I was just lucky enough that I came up to its level. You know how water finds its level? I was the water.

The process didn’t matter as soon as I was called and said, “Do you want to play this?” It has been many, many times that I have found, if you want the part you must go and read for that part. Until I become Brad Pitt and I have some plastic surgery.

Bill made me comfortable. He is wound tight and completely open, so that he is anxious, and yet when something is funny, it goes through all of the filters and just makes him giggle.

The two of them together, Alec and Bill, create a bubble of greatness, a bubble of calm, and in the structure of that bubble comes freedom. They know exactly what they want. They know every word. As you learn, as you go along, every word, it has been handpicked.

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by HBO/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (9695990j) Bill Hader, Henry Winkler "Barry" (Seasdon 1) TV Series - 2018

Bill Hader and Henry Winkler, “Barry”


I always say that Bill moves across the soundstage without making a sound. It’s like Tai Chi; he’s very calm. Now, there are moments when he is the director, the star, the writer, and the producer, all at the same moment. Nothing ruffles his feathers. He laughs if you do something funny. He is very mindful of what he was thinking, what he wants. “Let’s try this, because it was in my mind.”

He just makes me laugh. He’s instantly funny. It’s not like he has to think about it. If something strikes his fancy, he’s off. It’s just a delightful place to work as you are making this dark comedy slash dramedy.

You do something, he goes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Do that. Do that. Come on, do that.” And then he knows the words so well he mouths them with you. When you’re in a scene with him you have to remind him that he is not the producer, not the director; he is in the scene with you.

I appreciate him. I really do. I love him. I L-O-V-E him. He just is, he’s such a conundrum.

He’s like a beautiful, shelled something that all of a sudden he goes in, and then you kind of knock, “Hello? Hello, I’m here,” and he comes out. And you share lettuce together, because he’s on a strict diet. He eats some kind of a cracker with bananas or something like that, in order to stay Marine-like. I eat everything else, so that I literally, my tummy is starting to come into a scene way before you ever see me.

I don’t know that I could subsist. I don’t know what the hell he eats. And he’s so disciplined.

Everything that he has done since he got here to Hollywood from Oklahoma has prepared him for this. He’s had about a billion jobs writing. He was an assistant editor. But I think that he always knew that he wanted to be a director. I think that every decision he made was with that in mind. So it’s an amazing transition from “Saturday Night Live” to the creation of “Barry,” but I think it has always occupied his mind to be in exactly this place. It wasn’t a fluke.

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